Come Worship With Me


Come Worship with MeCome Worship With Me: A Journey Through the Church Year

Ruth Boling and Tracy Dahle Carrier
Geneva Press, 2001

There’s a large “clock” on the wall at my daughter’s preschool, with a marking for each week of the liturgical year. The teacher moves the hand each week when the children gather. As they progress through the year, she tells the children that this is the “way the world tells time.” This was one of the (many) things that sold me on her little school. It’s so important for children to understand that there is a larger reality that orders our lives, beyond the annual secular march through Hallmark holidays and department store sales. Life is a pilgrimage from birth to death to rebirth and resurrection, and the church year marks out the contours of our path.

Come Worship With Me is another lovely introduction to the church year, in picture book form. A small mouse invites readers to come worship, and we accompany him through the seasons and holy days at his church. Each day or season is introduced through its own special form of worship: candles and expectant carols for Advent; palms and processions on Palm Sunday; a sunrise service and trumpets on Easter morning. Each movement of the church calendar is an opportunity to worship God. Through the year we learn more about who He is and what He has done for us.

The whole telling is winsome, and appeals to children without talking down to them. The small mouse-narrator describes what happens in church, as well as how it makes him feel or how it helps him experience God. So, for instance, his comment on Palm Sunday (after observing that the other children use the palms to flick each other!): “I’m not sure whether to be glad or sad on Palm Sunday, because I know Jesus will die soon on the cross. I will try to be glad, because he is the ‘King of Kings.'” Really, the title is apt: the whole book is an invitation to worship, to share in the pilgrimage through the church year with the whole people of God.

While it’s true that the pictures portray a “traditional” church and some of the practices described only happen in liturgical churches, this is just as much a book for kids who worship in megachurches, borrowed warehouses, or house churches. Some readers may be unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday or All Saints’ Day, but these are ancient and beautiful markers of time in the Christian tradition. They’re explained in an approachable way that makes their significance clear to children, whether or not their own church celebrates them.

For Christians who aren’t as familiar or comfortable with liturgical traditions but would like to learn more: this book clearly demonstrates how the Church year – with its annual traditions – helps us learn about God and honor him together. Buy it now, and begin reading through it in the weeks leading up to the beginning of Advent – and invite your child into a year of worship.

A Homemade Year

Homemade YearA Homemade Year
Jerusalem Jackson Greer
Paraclete Press, 2013

My spiritual life has been deeply affected by the Anglican practice of arranging church life around the various liturgical seasons of the year.  Liturgy began to feed my soul in college and has only become more important to me in the (more than) decade since graduation.  Now as a mother, I aim for my family’s home life to reflect what goes on at church.  I want my children to always sense that church feels like home and home feels like an extension of church.  It’s something that hasn’t magically come together all at once, but bit by bit and year by year I try to make steady progress toward that general goal.

You’ll understand, then, that when I caught wind of a new book on celebrating the church year with your family I was immediately interested.  A Homemade Year is a book that will appeal to both newbies and veterans to liturgical celebrations, so wherever you find yourself on that spectrum I happily commend it to you.  I loved that the book doesn’t contain long, intimidating lists of all of the ways you could be marking each special day or season.  (She says candidly in the preface, actually, that she doesn’t recommend doing every craft, recipe, and activity in the book unless you only require three hours of sleep per night.)  Unlike some of the other church year celebration guides that I own, this book is a peek into one woman’s family life and the simple, creative, personal ways that she has made the church year come alive in their home.  It’s less like Pinterest and more like a memoir of sorts, and for someone who can get intimidated by the sheer number of ideas out there, I appreciated that.  It’s a welcome reminder that celebrating the church calendar doesn’t mean we have to put every single great idea into place.  Just one or two recipes or activities is really all you need, and you alone get to choose which ones (from this book or from other sources) are going to mean the most to your family.  Hooray!

Aside from the well known staples of the church year (Christmas, Easter, etc), author Jerusalem Jackson Greer writes about a number of celebrations that I was almost entirely unfamiliar with.  Anyone out there regularly do something for St. Joseph’s Day?  Or Holy Cross Day?  Do you even know when they are?  I certainly didn’t.  But because of A Homemade Year I do have several new days that I’m adding to our family’s celebrations this coming year.  Here’s the passage that sold me on observing Candlemas, the day to remember when the infant Jesus was presented in the temple:

By the time February 2 rolls around, there is very little evidence of Christmas left at my house… Winter is still here, bleak and bare, long outlasting the holiday finery that it arrived in… Candlemas comes to me then, in those moments of wondering and cold toes.  It comes full of light and warmth, it comes with beeswax candles and cups of steaming hot cocoa, signaling like those blinking lights on the snow plows and school buses, reminding me that Christmas was not a dream.  Christ did come, and he is among us still.  

Yes, yes, and yes.  Sign me up for Candlemas!

I have long loved the church year from Advent to Christ the King.  I love the rhythm it brings to my spiritual life, I love the aesthetics it offers to my home, I love systematically reliving the life of Jesus every year.  But even if you’re not similarly devoted to keeping the liturgical calendar alive in your home, I’m going to venture a guess that you’d still appreciate A Homemade Year.  Jerusalem neither grew up in a liturgical church nor worships in one now, and her meditations about each mentioned day/season are down to earth stories from her own life experience.  To me, that’s what makes this book so perfectly unique from the other Christian year celebration books I own.  Sure, there is less talk about theological underpinnings or historic traditions.  But when I read it I’m inspired to pay attention not just to liturgy but also to the unique story being woven together in my own home.  It makes me want to think on a more personal level about the ways my family can meaningfully engage in the passing of the Christian days and seasons together – and ultimately, that’s why it’s found a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

[Paraclete was kind enough to send me a review copy of A Homemade Life at my request.  I’m sorry that, because of our long blogging break, it’s taken me this long to share my thoughts with you all!]

The Little Drummer Boy

Drummer Boy

The Little Drummer Boy
Ezra Jack Keats
Puffin, 2000

We’ve been a bit light on book reviews lately, I know, but I’m hoping to make it up to all of you faithful readers with five posts this week!   Yep, that’s right: come back every day through Friday for reviews of my newest favorite Christmas books.  Sound like a deal?  Advent has been busy this year, so it will be a small miracle if I can pull it off, but I’m very eager to share the stack of books sitting next to me right now so I’m going to give it my best shot.

The first book in line this week is Ezra Jack Keats’ The Little Drummer Boy, which became a favorite of mine over a year ago when I discovered it on our library’s shelves.  It fits perfectly alongside our other Advent and Christmas books because of its artwork as well as its thematic content.

If you’re familiar with Keats’ more famous books like The Snowy Day or Whistle for Willie you already know the appeal of his artwork and how his characters easily engage young children.  Paired with the Christ-honoring lyrics to “The Little Drummer Boy” it’s a winning combination!  In between lots of rum-pa-pum-pums there’s a powerful message awaiting young readers (and singers):

I have no gift to bring
That’s fit to give the King…
I played my drum for him
I played my best for him
Then he smiled at me, me and my drum

This carol really has it all:  Baby Jesus is the King and he deserves our worship.  We ought to joyfully offer him the very best of what we have, even if it seems like a small token, and he is greatly pleased when we do so.  When I read this book  to my daughter I find myself drawn into the little boy’s story.  I feel his momentary sadness when he thinks he has nothing to give and then I share his delight when he realizes he does have something to give the Christ child.  As I turn the last page I always find myself thinking about the nature of worship and about what I have that I can offer to Christ.  The Little Drummer Boy is definitely a book I want my children to know and love, and I bet you’ll feel the same way.

Don’t forget to drop by tomorrow for a review of another beautiful and theologically rich Christmas book!

A Literary Meditation for Lent

First, friends, an apology. I was scheduled to review a family worship CD today, and in the motion of moving a family from Minneapolis to San Francisco (and back to Minneapolis, and then back to San Francisco…) I have managed to both misplace Haley’s kindly lent CD and forget to write the review. If this gives a glimpse into the state of my soul this Lent, well then: do pray for me.

However. God is good, and grace is large. I am gratefully reading Dante’s Inferno with a group of women alongside whom I’ve been reading and conversing for almost 7 years now. For those of you who haven’t picked it up since high school, it is an allegory of one man’s descent into Hell on Good Friday – into the reality of sin and its consequences – and his emergence on Holy Saturday. Guided by Virgil, Dante comes to see sin and its self-generated, divinely appointed punishment for what it really is, and to leave it behind in order to at last come forth, “to look once more upon the stars.” Needless to say, it’s excellent Lenten reading. I highly commend the entire Divine Comedy – especially if you can read it with some serious-minded friends.

Although I don’t love her translation, Dorothy Sayers (she of the Lord Peter Wimsey series: best mystery series ever) has an excellent introduction as well as some essays on Dante. I’ve been meditating upon a few of her comments on the Paradiso (the volume in which he travels to Heaven):

Heaven is where the soul, knowing God as he is, knows itself in God as God knows it and as it really is. It knows at last what it was made for, and plunges rapturously into the infinite understanding of love and joy, in which every partial end that it had fumblingly proposed to itself – every loose end, as one might say – of its being is knit up into God. It was made for this: to mirror the splendour, and shining back, to declare I AM. Now the point is this: that this free assent of the creature must be his assent to Reality. The facts of the situation is that he is a created being; that the end of his existence is to mirror God’s glory to the utmost of his capacity; and that he can only enjoy or attain his true selfhood by letting his desire and will be wheeled about that center of reality from which ‘Heaven and all nature hang.’

So, if this – assenting to my reality as a creature made solely to mirror God’s glory, and realizing that my only chance at attaining true selfhood is in submission to my Creator – is heaven, what is hell? What choices am I making every day that defy this reality? How am I actively living in contempt of my Creator? The folks I’ve been meeting in the Inferno do this in a variety of ways, and I’m sad to say that I feel uncomfortably familiar with way too many of them.

I’m thankful, though, for Dante’s – and Dorothy Sayers’ – way of naming what we are truly created for, so that we can recognize and repent our deviation. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Hooray for literature that is both beautiful and devotional!

A Starter Sunday School Library

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I suggested last week that every Sunday School classroom ought to have a well-stocked shelf of quality theological kidlit. Here are my suggestions for a “starter library” in preschool and elementary age classrooms! I haven’t included specific seasonal titles – that’s a later post, once the starter library is up and running! – and if you’re looking for books to add to the church nursery, check out Haley’s post on books for a new baby. Otherwise: any titles I’ve missed? Any that have worked well in your own churches?

For those of you with older children: since my kids are still young, so is our theological reading. I would love to get some suggestions for middle-grade and young adult classrooms. Please chime in, or direct me to your brilliant youth pastor or family ministry coordinator!

And lastly: if having a Sunday School library is far from a reality in your church, do think about raising the idea. If the funds aren’t there, would you or a few other parents be willing to give books (or funds towards books) as a part of your tithe? You may have a well-stocked library at home, or a long reserve list at your local public library — but other kids in in your congregation may not. Can we make a commitment to beautiful, true, compelling literature for the youngest worshipers in the church? I love to imagine what the fruits of that investment might be.

And without further ado: the list!

Books for a Preschool Sunday School Library (ages 2 – 5)
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Stories Jesus Told
Glory
He is My Shepherd
Psalms for Young Children
Read Aloud Bible Stories, vol. 1
What is the Church?
Noah’s Ark

Books for an Elementary Sunday School Library (ages 5 – 9)
Come Worship With Me
The Miracles of Jesus
Morning Has Broken
What is the Church?
Jesus Storybook Bible
Exodus
The Genesis of it All

Books for the Sunday School Shelf

Is there a bookshelf in your child’s Sunday School classroom? If not, maybe there should be. And it matters what’s on it.

Image courtesy 123rf.com

Image courtesy 123rf.com

In many churches, the Sunday School classroom is the primary worship space for children. It’s where those heroic teachers (who are never recognized enough! Go thank your child’s Sunday School teacher ASAP, please!) introduce our children to Jesus, his stories, and his Way. In many churches, the Sunday School classroom is where our children first experience the delight, growth, challenge, and occasional tedium that comes with worshipping as the body of Christ. So just as we pay careful attention to the elements of the grown-up worship space, so ought we attend to the space where our little ones learn to worship.

And one element of that space ought to be a small, well-edited library. Why? This isn’t exactly school, is it? Well, yes, it is. For some children, this is the only space where they will experience the language, motions, and sounds of worship. For others, it is the space where they learn how to be the church; a beginning tutorial in a lifelong call. And while there are lots of pieces to this — the curriculum, the setup of the space, the sounds and rhythms of the time spent together — having a good selection of quality theological books can enrich children’s worship space.

How so? What are some criteria for ministry leaders and parents who want to select the books that will inhabit a worship space? Since space and resources are always limited this side of the Kingdom, here are some ideas to keep in mind when stocking a Sunday School library:

  • In general, books that tell Bible stories well can be a good complement to a Sunday School curriculum. Picture books, especially give children another entrance into the story, another imaginative encounter with something they’ve recently heard. (This is especially important because children vary so widely in learning styles!)
  • Books about the church and its worship are also welcome additions to a Sunday School class. They can remind us all (teachers, children, parent aides) what it is we’re doing here week after week. Books like What is the Church or Come Worship With Me help place children’s worship in the big picture of the congregation and the church universal.
  • A good story Bible or age-appropriate collection of Bible stories is a must – especially in the younger classrooms. While there’s no substitute for reading Scripture itself with children, no 4-year-old is going to page through a copy of the NRSV. When I’ve been in a Sunday School classroom, I’ve been so thankful for Ella Lindvall’s Read Aloud Bible Stories during those chaotic transition times, or for quiet moments between activities. The children love hearing (and helping re-tell) simple versions of the stories they already know.
  • Lastly, what about books that afford moments of real praise together? Books of the psalms, illustrated hymn lyrics, or expostulations of praise invite children and adults to worship together in their very reading. Which is what we’re all there to do in the first place, after all.

Next week, I’ll post a list of suggested titles by classroom age. In the meantime, we’d love to hear if and how your church uses books in its children’s programs. What works? What doesn’t? Any titles you’d like to recommend?

Best Books for Lent

Between the two of us, Sarah and I have reviewed nearly 80 books since we’ve been blogging.  We’re still discovering new ones all the time, but one of the things we’d also like to do this year is go through the archives and pull together some best-of lists on a series of different topics.  Today is Shrove Tuesday (pancakes for dinner, anyone?), so we thought we’d start with our favorite books for Lent.  Our hope is that the list will help us fully enter into the Lenten season with our families.

In making the selections we were looking for books with four different themes: (1) books placing Jesus’ life and death as the main subject,  (2) books that help children understand the dynamics of sin, judgment, and grace, (3) books that show us the way of humility, and (4) books to guide the daily living-out of our faith.  No matter how you do (or don’t) observe Lent, there’s something for everyone here!

You probably already know that Sarah and I both love Lent, and in previous years we’ve written a lot about this particular season of the church calendar.  After the booklist we’ve provided links to those posts in case you’re in need of fresh ideas for how to set aside the next 6 1/2 weeks in meaningful ways.

Books for Lent

Jesus at the Forefront!

Sin, Judgment, and Grace

Humility

Spiritual Disciplines and Holy Living

Food for Thought about Lent (and Easter)

Book List

Want to take a list of our recommended books to the library?  Just print our complete list below, grab your library card, and go!

Aslan’s Library Books by Author

Advent & Christmas Books

Lent & Easter Books 

Parent Resource Books

Theological Music for Kids 

The Lent Shelf

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The last few years, as I’ve continued to settle into liturgical traditions, I’ve tried to make Lent a meaningful and memorable time. There are so many ways that we can make this season of preparation come alive for children and adults alike, and it’s been fun to figure out what is most helpful to my family. I’ve written before about engaging the senses during Lent, and the ideas in that post continue to be a helpful framework for me.

This year, though, I added something new: Montessori inspired Lenten baskets. The idea with these is that after being introduced to them, my kids can work with them on their own. They know they can do so whenever they want, but I also occasionally set aside time during Lent for all of us to individually spend some time thinking about Jesus. I didn’t have a space to use exclusively for this purpose, so I just set them on some of our already-filled bookshelves. And it’s working just fine!

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Some of the materials were things I already had, but I did buy a few couple of new items and baskets from Goodwill for storage. Here’s what I currently have set up, going from left to right and top to bottom in the photo above:

  • DIY felt cross puzzle from the Godly Play story The Mystery of Easter
  • Artwork depicting scenes from the life of Jesus via Ann Voskamp’s Trail to the Tree
  • Holding cross and (electric) candle
  • Small basket of items to remind us of stories in the Bible: fruit, salt shaker, bread, chalice, dove, sparrow, and Good Shepherd card
  • Cross and Christ figures from Worship Woodworks
  • DIY version of the Godly Play story of the Good Shepherd, made of felt and Holztiger figures
  • Small purple baby quilt to spread out for work space
  • Lacing crosses and small skeins of colorful yarn (I added this after I took the photo above, but you can see it in the photo directly below)

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Also new this year to my home are some wonderful resources from the Etsy shop Jesse Tree Treasures. I’m especially looking forward to using their Holy Week Easter Ornaments with my kids starting on Palm Sunday. The artwork is beautiful, and the ornaments themselves are sturdy and seem like they will last well. I love that the cross has two sides: one for Good Friday and one for Resurrection Day.

Even though this will be our first year displaying these ornaments (you put up one per day starting on Palm Sunday and there’s a short devotional for each), I’m certain it will become one of our favorite Lenten traditions. Holy Week is an incredibly special time, and I think these ornaments will help my kids deepen their understanding of its importance. If you’re new to Lent, Holy Week ornaments might be a perfect first tradition for your family – but they’re great for Lenten veterans, too!

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Holy Week Cross

The Jesse Tree Treasures folks have lots of other sets available in their shop, but the only other one I have is the Jesus Tree. It’s a similar idea to the Jesse Tree, but instead of following the story of redemption from creation to Christ’s birth, it goes through the life of Jesus from birth to resurrection one story at a time throughout Lent. The set comes with a total of 64 wooden discs (it includes a few extra holidays and 10 discs from Ascension to Pentecost), and they’re color coded according to their chronology. I love that the set comes with a list of where every story is found in each of the the Gospels; it has already proven to be a handy reference for me on more than one occasion.

Because of the number of discs in the set, figuring out a way to display them all proved to be a bit of a challenge for me. What I ended up doing with them this year is only using the ones that match up with the Lenten family devotional our church hands out. When we sit down for devotional time, we take out the discs from the stories we’ve read thus far and put them in order before moving on to the new story of the day. It’s not exactly the way the discs were designed to be used (we’re not even close to using all of them), but it’s a been a helpful way for my kids and me to remember what we’ve been reading from week to week. And I can imagine lots of uses for them outside of Lent, too!

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When I think about all the ways that we naturally make Advent a special time, I’m motivated to do the same for Lent. I want my kids to grow up knowing in their bones that Easter is the high point of the year – and more than that, that it was the high point of history. There are so many ways to bring the themes of Lent into focus in our hearts and minds and homes, so please comment if you have ideas to share!

The Theological Easter Basket

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As I mentioned on Sunday, this is Holy Week and properly a time for quieting down, lingering, waiting with Jesus. The temptation is there to rush through to Easter – especially for those of us hosting friends or family on Sunday, since we do have to plan ahead – but if we let ourselves, this week can be received as such a gift. It’s a chance, briefly, to taste eternal time; to let all the many things that occupy us pale a bit as we let ourselves be swept into these most momentous days of God’s story.

However. Those of us with kids still have lunches to pack, clothes to wash, baskets to fill, not to mention some planning to do as we prepare to usher our children through the transition of Jesus’ final days, his death, and his rising to life.

I can’t pack tomorrow’s lunch for you. (Sorry: I’m a pretty good lunch packer, but it is one of my LEAST FAVORITE chores.) And I can’t help with your laundry, either. (Sorry again: I love getting things clean, but I do so dislike the whole process of putting it all away.) But ideas for a theologically-rich Easter basket? That I can do.

Each year, I try to fill my children’s baskets with things I hope will encourage them to love Jesus more and want to know him better. To let them know that his love for them is the most important thing in their lives. (Also some Peeps, but that’s because I’m a traditionalist even when it involves disgusting over-sugared marshmallows.) In other words: I try to give them theological Easter baskets, Easter baskets that say something about God and why we’re hunting behind the couch for baskets filled with disgusting over-sugared marshmallows anyway.

So from me to you: some ideas for filling the baskets of your own small ones, with love and hope for a blessed week. Tuck one or more of these inside your child’s basket and commit to enjoying it together during the Easter season. Peeps optional.

ADD A FAMILY READ-ALOUD
(especially if you have an older child who wants to stay up just a little later: make some tea and read a little together!)

GIVE A DEVOTIONAL BOOK: & HELP YOUR CHILD USE IT!

INCLUDE A CD

  • Slugs and Bugs Sing the Biblewe haven’t reviewed this yet, but rest assured – we will. Because trust me, you didn’t know that you needed a song about Deuteronomy 14:21 BUT YOU DO.
  • Resurrection Letters: vol. II
  • Amy Grant CollectionBecause it still stands up, and is super accessible for kids. And it gives you an excuse to sing along to El Shaddai one more time.
  • Jim Weiss CDs: these aren’t explicitly theological, but they’re such a treat. If you haven’t discovered Jim Weiss yet, Do It Now. If you have, then you know what I mean.

INVEST IN THE MATERIALS TO TELL THE STORY

(A few Easter stories from Worship Woodworks – you can buy or make the materials, and tell the story throughout the season)

We’ll be quiet here the rest of the week: see you on the other side, when everything is “turned inside out and upside down” (Godly Play)  – or, in some of my favorite words, when we find the answer to our question “is everything sad going to come untrue?” (Tolkien) in the empty tomb.